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Defence & Aerospace

South China Sea tension mounts near Filipino shipwreck


Filipino MarinesA wrecked navy transport ship perched on a remote coral reef could be the next flashpoint in the South China Sea, where China and five other claimants bitterly dispute territory.

The Philippine government is accusing China of encroachment after three Chinese ships, including a naval frigate, converged just 5 nautical miles from an old transport ship that the Philippines deliberately ran aground on a reef in 1999 to mark its territory.

Philippine officials say they fear the Chinese ships will block supplies to about a dozen Filipino marines stationed in abject conditions on the rusting ship, raising tensions over one of Asia’s biggest security issues.

The area, known as Second Thomas Shoal (and as Renai Shoal in China), is a strategic gateway to Reed Bank, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. In 2010, Manila awarded an Anglo-Filipino consortium a license to explore for gas on Reed Bank but drilling stalled last year due to the presence of Chinese ships.

Manila says Reed Bank, about 80 nautical miles west of Palawan island at the southwestern end of the Philippine archipelago, is within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Beijing says it is part of the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

“China should pull out of the area because under international law, they do not have the right to be there,” said Raul Hernandez, a spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, noting the area’s proximity to Palawan, the country’s largest province.

He said the Chinese ships were a “provocation and illegal presence”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday the Second Thomas Shoal was part of the Spratly Islands, over which China had “indisputable sovereignty”.

“It is beyond reproach for Chinese boats to carry out patrols in these waters,” Hong said, adding China called on all parties to “refrain from taking actions that complicate the situation”.

The tension illustrates how a decades-old territorial squabble over the South China Sea is entering a more contentious chapter as claimant nations spread deeper into disputed waters in search of energy supplies, while building up navies and alliances with other nations.

Second Thomas Shoal is one of several possible flashpoints in the South China Sea that could force the United States to intervene in defense of its Southeast Asian allies.

The tension comes just before U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets his Asia-Pacific counterparts at the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore at the weekend. The South China Sea is on the agenda of the regional security forum.

“CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER”

Philippine authorities say the three Chinese ships arrived in Second Thomas Shoal on or around May 8, escorting a fleet of 30 fishing boats. Two days later, the Philippines formally lodged a protest with China over the vessels.

As of Tuesday, two Chinese marine surveillance ships remained in the area, Philippine navy spokesman Colonel Edgardo Arevalo said. The fishing boats and the frigate had left, he said.

“The presence of those ships is a clear and present danger,” said another senior Philippine navy officer, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media. He said the Philippines believed China was trying to pressure it to leave the shoal.

“We don’t want to wake up one day with fresh structures sitting near our navy ship there. We have to bite the bullet and strengthen our position there or risk losing the territory.”

The wrecked U.S.-built ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, is among Asia’s loneliest military outposts. The ship was launched in World War Two, saw action in Okinawa and was used again in the Vietnam War. It was transferred to the Philippine government in 1976 under a military assistance program.

Soldiers are equipped with a small generator for cooking. Radios are battery-powered and supplies are delivered by boat.

“They want us out of the area,” another Philippine navy officer said of China.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-nation grouping that includes the Philippines, has been talking to China about a binding code of conduct to ease tension. But China says it will negotiate “when the time is ripe”.

ASEAN foreign ministers are due to meet in Thailand in August to forge a position on the code of conduct before meeting Chinese officials in late August or early September in Beijing.

The easternmost territory held by China is Mischief Reef, about 65 km (40 miles) northwest of Second Thomas Shoal. China occupied it in 1995. The Philippines occupied Second Thomas Reef with the BRP Sierra Madre in 1999, preventing China moving further east.

In March, Malaysia protested against the incursion of four Chinese ships in James Shoal, about 80 km (50 miles) off Sarawak on Borneo island. Chinese sailors fired guns in the air during the visit to the shoal. Last month, a Chinese maritime surveillance ship returned to James Shoal to leave behind steel markers to assert its claim.

RISK OF MISCALCULATION

Zha Daojiong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Peking University, said China was serious about asserting its claims in the South China Sea and it was important the region did not misunderstand this.

“There is now a quiet agreement among different Chinese voices that sometimes you have to act as well as issuing statements,” he said. China would, however, never completely close the door on possible co-operation.

Ian Storey, a scholar at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies, said tension at Second Thomas Shoal could prove more dangerous than last year’s stand-off at unoccupied Scarborough Shoal, given the presence of Filipino troops.

“It is hard to imagine China using force to gain full control over Second Thomas, but some kind of blockade to drive out the Philippines’ troops would have to be a possibility,” Storey said. “There is a real chance of escalation or miscalculation.”

Source: Reuters – “South China Sea tension mounts near Filipino shipwreck”
 
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About chankaiyee2

Author of the book "Tiananmen's Tremendous Achievements" about how with the help of Tiananmen Protests, talented scholars with moral integrity seized power in the Party and state and brought prosperity to China. The second edition of the book will be published within a few days to mark the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Protests All the parts in the first edition remain in the second edition with a few changes due to information available later and better understanding. There are also some changes for improvements of style. The new parts are Chapters 12-19 on events in China after the first edition was published: The fierce power struggle for succession between reformists and conservatives; Xi Jinping winning all elders’ support during his mysterious disappearance for 2 weeks in early September, 2012; and Xi Jinping Cyclone. Chan Kai Yee's new book: SPACE ERA STRATEGY: The Way China Beats The US An eye-opening book that tells the truth how the US is losing to China. The US is losing as it adopts the outdated strategy of Air-Sea Battle while China adopts the space era strategy to pursue integrated space and air capabilities: It is losing due to its diplomacy that has given rise to Russian-Chinese alliance. US outdated strategy has enabled China to catch up and surpass the US in key weapons: Hypersonic weapons (HGV) that Pentagon regards as the weapon that will dominate the world in the future. Aerospaceplane in China’s development of space-air bomber that can engage enemy anywhere in the world within an hour and destroy an entire aircraft carrier battle group within minutes. Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, anti-ASAT weapons, stealth aircrafts, drones, AEW&C, etc. The book gives detailed descriptions of China’s weapon development based on information mainly from Chinese sources that the author monitors closely. U.S. Must Not Be Beaten by China! China is not a democracy. Its political system cannot prevent the emergence of a despotic leader or stop such a leader when he begins to bring disasters to people. A few decades ago, Mao Zedong, the worst tyrant in world history did emerge and bring disasters to Chinese people. He wanted to fight a nuclear war to replace capitalism with communism but could not bring nuclear holocaust to world people as China was too weak and poor at that time. If a despot like Mao Zedong emerges when China has surpassed the US in military strength, world people will suffer the misery experienced by Chinese people in Mao era. China surpassing the US in GDP is not something to worry about as China has the heavy burden to satisfy its huge population, but China surpassing the US in military strength will be world people’s greatest concern if China remains an autocracy. US people are of much better quality than Chinese people. What they lack is a wise leader to adopt the correct strategy and diplomacy and the creative ways to use its resources in developing its military capabilities. I hope that with the emergence of a great leader, the US can put an end to its decline and remain number one in the world. China, US, space era strategy, air-sea battle, space-air bomber, arms race, weapon development, chan kai yee

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